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Andy Street: As our own conference approaches, our activists are setting MPs an example to follow

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

During the last few days, I have been reflecting on the contribution of volunteers to our Party. I am relatively new to active involvement in politics, and the incredible work that our grassroots volunteers carry out never fails to impress and inspire me.  I believe that their approach provides lessons that the wider Party should reflect upon.

I entered politics directly from the world of business, where the dynamic between management and employee is very different to that between a political party and its grassroots activists, and the motivations behind everything that is done.

Yet I was lucky enough to work at John Lewis for 30 years, where the company’s entire structure and ethos was about a partnership. The firm was built on the concept of working together to achieve something we all believed in, and then sharing the success.

As we approach this year’s conference, when all facets of our Party are brought together, I have been struck by how similar that John Lewis spirit is to the dedication that drives our Conservative activists. There is, of course, a key difference – our volunteers aren’t paid.  Their dedication is vocational, inspired by a wish to do the right thing for their communities and our country.

Those same members carry great responsibility, in selecting the candidates who will represent their communities when the nation goes to the polls.  Here in the West Midlands, they are currently selecting parliamentary candidates across key seats as a general election approaches. Important decisions are being considered in areas like Birmingham Edgbaston, which was so totemic of Tony Blair’s victory, and in Dudley North, which we lost by just 22 votes at the last election. Members are also sadly choosing a new representative for Meriden, a future Cabinet Minister’s seat if ever there was one. And, of course, members have just exercised the huge responsibility of selecting the new Prime Minister.

In just the last few days, I have witnessed how volunteers contribute to the success of our Party, in a huge variety of ways. Allow me provide a few examples.

Last weekend, across the seven West Midlands boroughs of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton, we saw hundreds of volunteers turn out for my “Street Clean” weekend. Conservatives from all backgrounds and of all ages joined and supported voluntary community groups and businesses who regularly clean our streets, to tidy up litter blackspots across the region. It was a massive yet informal and fun event that provided a visible and positive example of community-minded conservatism in action, from leafy hamlets near Solihull to urban Dudley. Oh, and they collected more than 500 bags of rubbish.

Then, in contrast, we had a formal party meeting for my re-selection by the Area Council. This provided an opportunity for representatives of all seven West Midlands boroughs to grill me on my record and my plans for the future of our region. It brought some truly thought-provoking questions on everything from the Mayoral role to the future direction of our party. I was honoured to be selected to stand for re-election next May.

Our re-selection system ensures that MPs and Mayors are accountable to their members. Even if ultimate accountability lies with the nation’s voters, re-selection puts Party power back in the hands of local associations and grassroots activists.

On Thursday, we welcomed William Hague for a fundraising dinner – a brilliant evening with an exceptional politician. Every strand of our Party was represented at this event, with councillors and volunteers rubbing shoulders with MEP Anthea McIntyre, local MPs James Morris and Wendy Morton, as well as Jay Singh-Sohal, our impressive candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner.

Finally, over the weekend our teams were out again campaigning across the region, delivering thousands of community-led issue surveys, leafleting and canvassing. I was out and about too, joining volunteers as they pounded pavements and climbed tower blocks to support our excellent candidate Gary Sambrook, in Birmingham Northfield.

That is a selection of the voluntary contribution to the week of West Midlands politics, from picking up litter to welcoming Party celebrities, from seamlessly organising the inner functions of the Party machine to knocking on doors and speaking to voters. It illustrates the variety of ways in which volunteers contribute to Party life, and I know it is reflected up and down the country.

All of this made me reflect on how perhaps the Partnership of John Lewis and the teamwork of the Conservative Party aren’t that far apart after all. So, what is the prime contribution made by our activists? Is it their time? Their energy? Their ideas? Their fundraising? Their shoe leather? I think they are the glue that binds us together. They provide unity.

UK politics has never been more divisive. Entrenched positions in Westminster and polarised opinions over Europe have at times exaggerated the differences between political colleagues, rather than emphasising what they share, and what they agree upon. How ever unpredictable UK politics gets, our volunteers and activists continue to do their vital dedicated work, the bedrock on which everything else is built.

In the West Midlands, our success has been built on an understanding that, while there are often differences of opinion, unity of vision is crucial. To use a business idiom, while there may be dissent in the boardroom, there must be unity outside. This approach has seen our region return more MPs, win more Councils, and end last May’s local elections only one councillor down.

In a sense, that idea of a common bond and a unity of purpose against a threat we all understand (we see it every day in the West Midlands, long considered by Labour to be their natural territory) is a lesson to our MPs. That requires debate, compromise and ultimately putting collective interest above self interest. This is what our Party members and volunteers do every day.

In a week during which Labour activists attempted to unseat West Bromwich’s Tom Watson as Deputy Leader, deepening divisions within their Party that run from the top to the bottom, Conservatives can be thankful that our own volunteers provide the stability that allow us to function as a Party in such challenging times.

As we prepare for Party Conference, and others look to identify and exploit our differences as we debate the great challenges facing our nation, we can rely on our grassroots activists to provide a unity that has always made us a formidable force.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

The local elections revisited: an analysis of results in the Wesr Midlands

Each week, we have been analysing the local election results for a different region. It is time to focus on the West Midlands.

No elections were held in Birmingham or Shropshire.

Among the unitary authorities, the following had all their seats up for election:

  • Stoke
  • Herefordshire
  • Telford and Wrekin

With the metropolitan boroughs, the following had a third of seats contested:

  • Coventry
  • Dudley
  • Sandwell
  • Solihull
  • Walsall
  • Wolverhampton

The following district councils had all their seats contested:

  • Bromsgrove
  • Litchfield
  • Malvern Hills
  • North Warwickshire
  • South Staffordshire
  • Stafford
  • Staffordshire Moorlands
  • Stratford-on-Avon
  • Warwick
  • Wychavon
  • Wyre Forest

While these district councils only had a third of the seats up for election this time:

  • Cannock Chase
  • Redditch
  • Rugby
  • Tamworth
  • Worcester

There were no elections in Newcastle-under-Lyme, apart from a by-election, or in Nuneaton and Bedworth.

Conservatives

First the good news. The Conservatives gained control of Walsall. We only gained two seats, but that was enough. Cllr Mike Bird, the new council leader, wrote about it for us here.

There is more good news from Dudley, traditionally a key battleground. It has 36 Conservative councillors and 36 for Labour. But the Conservatives have taken charge with the casting vote of the Mayor. Cllr Patrick Harley, the new council leader, gave us an account of what happened here.

Stoke-on-Trent is still under no overall control, but the Conservatives made eight gains. The upshot is that the Council is still run by a coalition of Conservatives and independents, but that it is now the Conservatives that are the senior partner.

These are impressive results. But elsewhere, it was pretty grim. In Solihull, the Conservatives lost six seats and cling on with a majority of just one. Also, the Conservatives lost control of Wyre Forest (which is now led by the Independent Community & Health Concern group), Staffordshire Moorlands (which is still Conservative-led but in coalition with independents), Malvern Hills (now run by an independents/Green/Lib Dems coalition), and Warwick (still Conservative-led in a minority administration) among the district councils.

There was also the loss of Herefordshire. The Conservatives were down 15 seats, with the independents making the most gains, and they now lead a coalition running the Council.

Looking at the principles of the Herefordshire Independents, they are broadly conservative. But there are some independents in favour of a proposed bypass, with others independents against. So that is problematic.

As with so many other cases, opposition to development is a factor. The It’s Our County group of independents want to “revise down the development housing target” – although they do (very sensibly) say they favour building more homes on council owned land.

Lib Dems

In some ways, this is a disappointing set of results for the Lib Dems. They notched up some gains in seat here and there – including seven seats in Warwick. They gained four seats in Malvern Hills. But there were no great breakthroughs.

Labour

Given the context, these were pretty bad results for Labour. it is true that they are still dominant in Coventry, and in Sandwell, they still hold every seat. In Wolverhampton, they lost a seat to the Conservatives, but Labour still has a huge majority. They made some gains in some districts – picking up six seats in Lichfield and another six on Staffordshire Moorlands. They also notched up a gain of nine seats in Telford and Wrekin.

But then elsewhere they made losses. Apart from what was noted above, they lost control of Cannock Chase Council. They still run the Council, but have to rely on the support of Green Party councillors. It would be startling for Labour to be losing in Walsall and Stoke at any time. For them to do so at this stage in the electoral cycle is rather astonishing; Labour has less power in the West Midlands now than they did before the elections took place.

Conclusion

Overall, bad news for everyone apart from the independents. Going into the details of the results in this region gives a sense of how volatile the electorate has become. A reminder that the Conservatives lost 1,330 council seats last month. But that was a net figure. Within that tally were some impressive gains – which by definition meant that the total number of losses that they offset were even higher. It was even more dramatic that the national scorebaord suggests. All the old certainities in local politics have been swept awy in the anti establishment revolt.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Street: How cultural renaissance in the West Midlands is driving economic growth

Andy Street is the Mayor of the West Midlands and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Creativity has always been at the heart of the West Midlands’ success. It was our creative spark that fired the industrial revolution, igniting a thousand trades where, alongside the furnaces of heavy industry, skilled local artisans fashioned jewellery, coins and trinkets that sold across the globe.

In the West Midlands of the 21st Century, culture and creative are critical, rapidly-growing parts of our economy. They not only define what a place is like to live in, they drive innovation and future jobs, and form a key part of our Local Industrial Strategy. The creative industries are growing at three times the national average.

Under a Conservative mayor we are seeing a cultural renaissance that is driving economic growth, equipping younger people with vital new skills, enticing tourists and uniting our communities by tapping into their diversity. Through targeted Government support and local leadership, once again that creative spark is lit – but this time it is illuminating new opportunities as well as powering industry.

We also want it to fire young imaginations, giving students the skills they will need to flourish in the constantly-changing cultural economy. This week, for example, two pioneering new free schools in the West Midlands were announced by the Department for Education.

In central Birmingham, a free school is being founded by BOA Stage and Screen Production. This will be an exciting 16-19 specialist college, set up by the Birmingham Ormiston Academy, backed by a number of industry sponsors and partners including Birmingham City University. It will offer a range of vocational and high-level technical qualifications for students wishing to enter TV, Film or Theatre professions.

In Sandwell, in what is believed to be a world first, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra is partnering with Shireland Collegiate Academy Trust to create the Shireland CBSO school. This non-selective, non-fee paying school will admit its first cohort of pupils in September 2021, at the end of the orchestra’s centenary celebrations.

The home of the CBSO – Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – will also be opening up its doors thanks to funding that aims to turn it into community arts space akin to the Southbank Centre. With support from the Arts Council’s Capital funding programme, the venue has been awarded £4.5 million of National Lottery money which, with funding from Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, will update Symphony Hall’s foyers, create new learning and participation spaces.

While Symphony Hall, one of Brum’s best modern buildings gets a new lease of life, across the city centre a cultural icon built by our Victorian forefathers is also looking to the future.

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery are to launch a £40 million fundraising appeal to create new galleries and a separate cultural exhibition centre in the east of the city. The grand old museum wants to redesign its galleries and exhibition spaces, including the creation of a new children’s gallery to inspire youngsters.

Much of our cultural renaissance has been funded in this innovative way, with local businesses and charitable trusts providing backing alongside central funding. One great example is the Black Country Living Museum, the huge open-air site most recognisable across the UK as one of the regular backdrops for TV’s Peaky Blinders.

A cultural enterprise with an annual turnover of £6.2m, the museum’s annual surpluses are reinvested into caring for its impressive collection of buildings, vehicles and local artefacts.

Now the Dudley site is aiming to attract 500,000 visitors by 2025 as part of an ambitious expansion project, which will see an entire new town built, highlighting Black Country history through the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s.

It has secured £9.4 million from the National Lottery Heritage to reach the £23 million needed to complete the expansion, with work expected to be finished by Spring 2022.

More than a dozen charitable trusts, including some bearing famous local names such as Owen and Cadbury, have contributed to this grand scheme, alongside support from Midlands Engine and the Arts Council for England.

This approach ensures the tax-payer does not bear the entire financial burden of cultural improvements, while encouraging local ownership and investment in them.

Elsewhere across the region, areas once synonymous with industry are being reborn as creative quarters that are regenerating neighbourhoods and driving economic growth.

In Birmingham, Digbeth’s Custard Factory – once the home of Birds custard – is a creative hub surrounded by challenging and innovative street art, while the city’s Jewellery Quarter has become one of the UK’s most vibrant cultural communities, and a highly sought-after place to live.

Devolution has made much of this possible, with local decision making building cultural networks that feed creativity.

Under my leadership, the West Midlands Combined Authority is setting up a network to help the film and TV industry engage with the West Midlands. The Screen Industry Body will be an agile, responsive regional network, reflective of the rapidly-changing nature of the screen sector, and creating a single point of entry.

Elsewhere, a new region-wide Culture Board is linking up with organisations across the West Midlands to strengthen the sector, and ensure that investment in areas such as housing and transport facilitate culture – by placing art in railway stations, for example, or along new sprint bus routes.

Martin Sutherland, Executive Director of Coventry  City of Culture 2021, is chairing this new board to ensure our region links up to the festival, which is our most important creative and cultural event by far. It will be the crowning glory of the West Midlands’ cultural renaissance.

The City of Culture will provide a vehicle to showcase just what the region has to offer, and Coventry is rising to the challenge. Excitement is growing not only among the public but throughout the business community in Coventry and Warwickshire, where the level of support from commerce and the community is setting a new standard for the region.

Curated by Cultural Director Chenine Bhathena, the festival will not only celebrate the wonderful creative side of Coventry, the programme of events will also address many of the social issues facing the city, using culture to reach out to diverse communities.

Finally, Creative industries in the West Midlands will benefit from a £1.2m boost from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport as part of the ‘Creative Scale Up’ programme.

Launched by Creative Industries Minister and Stourbridge MP Margot James, the money will be used by the WMCA to link creative companies to investors.

From region-wide networks to grass-root festivals, from pioneering schools to reimagined museums, the West Midlands is experiencing a cultural renaissance that is not only complementing our economic growth, it is actively driving it.

There is one other benefit, and that is how our region is perceived around the globe. With investment in transport networks and improved air links, we are becoming a tourism hotspot.

The Boston Globe recently described Brum as ‘visionary’. The New York Times says the Second City is “England’s heartland metropolis: big-shouldered, friendly and fun.” Tourism has become a vital part of our economy. Birmingham alone welcomed 41.8 million visitors in 2017, a 6.9 per cent increase from 2016 and generating £7.1 billion worth of economic benefit.

The vibrant culture of the UK’s most diverse region is taking visitors by surprise. With the Commonwealth Games in 2022 we can look forward to an influx of visitors hungry to discover more. By working closely with Government to target investment, we have rekindled that creative spark that is one again catching the eye of the world.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Alan Mak: Conservatism 4.0 – We must ensure that no-one is left behind by the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Alan Mak is MP for Havant and Founding Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Stanley Baldwin said the Conservative Party stood for “real England” – a Party defined by voluntary organisations and Christian patriotism, little platoons and big national causes.

His Conservative Party of the 1920s faced an upstart opposition in a Labour Party that had usurped the Liberals to become the second party of British politics. Outlining the growing threat from Labour, Baldwin described them as being for a nation of class divisions and over-mighty trade unions.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has come full circle and is once again challenging the success and legitimacy of our free-market economy.

A century on from Baldwin, and despite being the natural party of government, our Party has often struggled to break out from its vote base of shire counties and market towns. It’s over 30 years since we won a majority of over 21 at a general election.

But there are signs of change. Our electoral success in recent years has been driven by securing more votes in Labour’s industrial heartlands. Dudley, Mansfield, Copeland and Teesside have all elected Conservatives in recent years, whilst the West Midlands and Tees Valley have elected Conservative Mayors on a region-wide basis.

This Conservative momentum in areas once dominated by trade unions and the Old Left shows that our message of hope, personal freedom and low taxation can re-define our path to a majority.

Yet our progress in these Labour heartlands is not concrete and shouldn’t be taken for granted. A pro-Leave electorate that has trusted another party for so long will be looking to the Conservatives to not only deliver Brexit, but ensure they are not left behind by the next big technological revolution either. As I said in yesterday’s article, this commitment must be a central tenant of Conservatism 4.0 – Conservative ideology for the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR].

The last time our country went through a technological revolution we had a strong leader with a firm ideology. The computing revolution of the 1980s powered Britain to economic success – and political success for Thatcherism. Through deregulation and an unwavering belief in the free market, the City of London prospered from the Big Bang, and our economy was transformed into a services-based powerhouse. From the stuttering, strike-crippled, state-dominated closed market that Thatcher inherited, the foundations were laid for rapid economic growth and the business-friendly, pro-innovation environment we enjoy today.

Our next Leader will also find themselves at an inflection point. They will have to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as artificial intelligence, big data and automation change our economy and society beyond recognition – and ensure that every community and region benefits from the wealth that it creates. Whilst Margaret Thatcher’s transformation of Britain’s economy for the better is undeniable, there are mining and industrial communities who felt they were left behind as other parts of the country raced ahead. To win a majority at future elections, today’s Conservatives need to attract working class and northern votes, so we cannot allow the positive impact of the 4IR to be absent from any region or for its benefits to be inaccessible to any social group.

The 4IR will radically change how we work, regardless of sector or industry. Instead of dockers and miners being at risk of automation, in the near future it will be call centre operators, lorry drivers and factory workers. With a path to electoral victory that increasingly runs through industrial towns, every factory closure or job lost to robots without alternatives emerging, will make a majority harder to achieve for our next leader.

That’s the reason why, whilst we still have an opportunity to shape the 4IR, our policies must be focussed on creating an Opportunity Society centred around social mobility powered by lifelong learning, high-quality education and skills training for everyone at every stage of their lives. Our Opportunity Society must be more than just a short-term policy objective. It has to be an integral part of the future of capitalism and a key part of Conservatism 4.0.

As robots slowly replace human workers, many on the radical-left are arguing for a Universal Basic Income (UBI), a minimum wage paid by the Government to every citizen regardless of their productive capacity. Every single country that has trialled UBI – from Kenya to Finland – has found it expensive and ineffective. Research by the International Labour Office has estimated that average costs would be equivalent to 20-30 per cent of GDP in most countries. In Britain, this would be more than double the annual budget of the NHS, yet John McDonell says a Corbyn-led Labour Govnement would trial it. These are just two of the reasons why we Conservatives should reject UBI as the solution to growing automation in the 4IR.

The truth is work has always paid, and work for humans will always exist. Work drives our economy, multiplies and makes the world richer. It takes people out of poverty and gives them purpose, and this will continue to be the case in the 4IR. In fact, many more new jobs are likely to be created than are lost to robots because the technology of the 4IR will drive economic growth, which in turn will create new and more interesting jobs, especially in new tech sectors such as advanced manufacturing, 3D printing, precision medicines and AI-powered creative industries.

Not enough is made of our job creation miracle since 2010, which has seen our economy put on three million new jobs. As we enjoy the lowest unemployment rates since the 1970s, we need to re-emphasise the value of work and the benefits to be derived from a good job. A UBI would be defeatist, signifying that humans had ceased to be useful in a world of machines, and be the antithesis of social mobility – there would be no need to work hard to move upwards on the income and living standards scale if we are all paid to stay at the same level. A UBI would also stall our economy through either crippling debt on the public purse or new taxes imposed on innovation. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed Robot Tax would simply mean a left behind country – a nation that fails to attract foreign investment and which becomes known for its anti-innovation approach to technology.

Instead, true devolution must be at the heart of delivering an Opportunity Society and making sure no community or individual is left behind. Our next Prime Minister must invest in the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine so regional economic growth is put in the hands of regional leaders. The benefits of the 4IR, from new start-ups to overseas investment, must be enjoyed beyond the “Golden Triangle” of London, Oxford and Cambridge. As Juergen Maier who led the Government’s Made Smarter Review, argued, it’s about creating an “innovation climate” in regions such as the North.

We cannot expect the heavy industries of the past to return, but instead our focus should be on ensuring the new technologies of the future are exploited in every area of the country to create new jobs and rising skills levels in every community. The Liverpool City Region understand this, and have already taken the initiative. They have launched LCR 4.0, an ambitious plan to support manufacturing and advanced engineering organisations in the region by funding practical support to transform businesses through digital innovation. By helping traditional manufacturers upgrade their technology, they enable firms to stay in business and keep their workers employed by becoming more productive. Conservatism 4.0 should support more initiatives like this.

Moving towards a system of local business rates retention will also encourage further investment in skills and business support from local authorities as they reap the rewards of encouraging local growth. There should also be more scope for local taxation and decentralisation as a central tenet of Conservatism 4.0 to empower local areas to evaluate their workforces and set-up true long-term strategies for delivering local economic growth, building on the work of existing Local Enterprise Partnerships and new Local Industrial Strategies.

Conservatism has always evolved and must do so again as we enter a new technological age by putting social mobility and reginal devolution centre stage. They are the two key building blocks to ensuring that every community and region can benefit from technology-driven economic growth. While Thatcherism delivered for the Third Industrial Revolution, we need a new brand of Conservatism to build an Opportunity Society for the Fourth. My final article in this series, published tomorrow, will set out the four principles that should guide us as we re-calibrate Conservatism in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This article is the second in a three-part series explaining why adapting to a society and economy shaped by technology is key.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Street: Conservatives in Walsall have been rewarded for their practical approach

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Last week’s local council elections were a bruising encounter for the political world. With the national conversation focused on Brexit and Westminster, community campaigners were often given the cold shoulder by residents, with local issues failing to influence voters. In such divisive times, positives can be hard to find.

But for Conservatives a shining light can be found in the heart of the Black Country – in Walsall. One of the seven boroughs that make up the West Midlands Combined Authority, Walsall Council was one of a precious few gains for Conservatives, moving from No Overall Control to blue under the indefatigable leadership of Cllr Mike Bird in a campaign organised by Cllr Adrian Andrew.

This achievement was all the more impressive given that Walsall is a major political battleground, a post-industrial town of working people where Labour should be expecting to win seats, not lose them.

The success of Walsall’s Conservatives, and the strong support they have built, provides not only a masterclass in pragmatic local politics but also perhaps a prescient reminder nationally of how being seen to deliver the goods is key.

Walsall is also a local authority that is open to collaboration on a regional level, being quick to win investment and make positive changes. It also provides a great example of the brand of ‘Urban Conservatism’ that is emerging here in the West Midlands.

A similar local campaign was well fought in Dudley, where there is now a real prospect of Conservatives forming an administration again. After holding Solihull against a tough Liberal Democrat and Green challenge, and taking control of Walsall, the addition of Dudley would give us three metropolitan councils across the West Midlands Combined Authority. While this may still put us in a minority in the region, there is a strong Conservative platform being built here and a clear direction of travel.

Walsall Conservatives are a close-knit team who focus their energies on a positive agenda, delivering on bread-and-butter issues and providing tangible change for residents. They get on with the job for local people, running a good council delivering key services, such as popular fortnightly ‘brown bin’ garden waste collections, investment in cleaning up litter, increased road repairs and action on derelict sites.

It is a team that understands the concerns of local people and responds to them with visible results.

But crucially, Walsall has a broader outlook that has seen it engage with its neighbours and play a big role in the West Midlands Combined Authority alongside Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Solihull, Dudley and Sandwell. This has allowed Walsall to benefit from the investment attracted by regional initiatives.

It is through this regional approach that Walsall’s Conservative leaders have been able to deliver much of the tangible change that is likely to have impressed residents and influenced voting patterns.

Take the Phoenix Ten site. For thirty years this huge derelict area, once a copper works, has greeted visitors to Walsall as they arrive via the M6. By working with the Combined Authority, and the Black Country LEP, Walsall’s council is finally cleaning up this contaminated site.

This kind of scheme is helping to breathe new life into Walsall, while driving economic growth across the borough and the Black Country as a whole, giving people better opportunities for a decent home and jobs.

Reclaiming land contaminated by Walsall’s industrial past is a big part of Conservative efforts to provide visible change, which includes providing sites for housing too.

Schemes already underway include 250 new homes on a former industrial site, while proposals would also see the huge former Caparo steelworks in Birchills developed for housing.

Another bread-and-butter issue that Walsall has taken on is transport. They have seized the opportunities afforded by regional investment to work in partnership with the mayor’s office, Travel for the West Midlands and other agencies to deliver new services that residents value – and use.

A great example of the ambition being shown in Walsall is fast-tracked plans to reverse decades-old Beeching cuts and reopen railway stations to passengers in Darlaston and Willenhall, with a third in Aldridge hopefully not far behind.

Walsall’s Conservatives have also recognised the deeply symbolic role the borough’s historic town centre holds for local people. I have been working with them to make Walsall a regional pilot scheme for our high streets programme.

Homelessness is another highly-visible issue that has prompted a strong reaction for doorstep campaigners, and Walsall has stepped forward to push the Housing First scheme we are pioneering across the region, with Government backing. As a borough, Walsall is potentially hosting 32 tenancies to help local homeless people make a new start.

And the Walsall team have had other successes, like campaigning and securing investment in Walsall Manor Hospital to rebuild and expand the A&E department.

Time and again what you see in Walsall is a strong local Conservative team identifying issues that matter to residents and then getting backing from Government – and cash – to make a real difference.

The strength and unity of that team is also key to Walsall’s success. Fantastic candidates and councillors campaign together in a positive and ambitious way that speaks directly to local people.

Conservative MPs Wendy Morton and Eddie Hughes have always supported the ambition of their council colleagues, providing a united front to achieve results.

It is always a positive and fun experience to go campaigning in Walsall and be part of their team.

And last Thursday hard work, a united team and a positive forward-looking agenda paid off with the Conservatives gaining the Council.

This success has been achieved in a post-industrial town that has been for many years a fierce political battleground. Walsall is a town where Labour believe they should be winning council seats.

But it is also clear there is little local enthusiasm for the Islington brand of socialism in Walsall, or the Leftism of Momentum. Walsall people simply want their council to be run well, and for their elected leaders to deliver.

The Conservatives of the Black Country are getting on with the job, providing tangible change and showing an ability to collaborate and grasp the opportunity to deliver results. Their success was one of few bright moments in a challenging night at the polls.

Their pragmatic approach to getting the job done provides not only encouragement to the local associations who fared less well last week, it also reminds us at both the regional and national level that success in politics is about delivering the goods.

 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

In Dudley, I watch local Tories trying to run on their record, not May’s

Is there any truth in the ancient claim that all politics is local? Councillor Simon Phipps, whose picture adorns this article, very much hopes so. Last night he led a crack team of over 20 Conservatives, drawn from all over the West Midlands, in a bid to hold his seat in Belle Vale, a marginal ward in the highly marginal Metropolitan Borough Council of Dudley.

His troops gathered at six yesterday evening in the car park at the Lutley Oak pub, on a grassy knoll overlooking the main road between Halesowen and Stourbridge. The weather was beautiful and morale among the troops was high, for how else can one fight an election?

Phipps, who is 23 and won the seat when he was 19, arrived in a small car which bore on its door, in white capitals on a blue background, the impeccably local message:

SIMON PHIPPS

WORKING HARD

FOR

BELLE VALE

But the national background is atrocious. The Conservative government has broken its promise to implement Brexit, and people in Dudley, a predominantly Leave-voting area, have noticed.

Preliminary research in Stourbridge, three miles down the road, indicated a sense of resigned disgust with politics, and an inclination to say “a plague on all your houses”. Mike Lloyd, 63, who runs the doughnut stall at the end of the High Street, said:

“We’re not going to bother to vote. My missus is that fed up with Brexit. We’ve always voted Conservative, ever since the Margaret Thatcher days, but Brexit is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. We’d like to just leave on that Friday and tell them all to bugger off.”

Barry Taylor, a retired machine operator, agreed: “I’ve just lost interest now in politics altogether. When we had that vote two years ago, about coming out of Europe, I don’t know why they didn’t just come out there and then.”

A woman who runs a small shop regretted that the High Street has become “dilapidated”, but took a marginally more promising view: “I might still vote Conservative. If I don’t I shan’t vote at all. But a lot of people have had enough now, to the point it just goes over people’s heads and they shut their eyes and ears to it.”

Could Phipps open their eyes and ears? Soon he was running up a suburban street, lined with modest and by no means affluent houses, with a distant view of green and wooded hills, in the hope of persuading sceptical voters to think again.

He called only at houses which earlier canvassing had shown either to be Conservative, or at least to be open to persuasion. Rather ominously, shiny cars were parked outside some of these far from grand houses, but the doors did not open.

When the door did open a crack, one man said: “We’re just having our tea.” Another said, as if this ruled out all political conversation: “I’ve got my grandson with me.”

Some people, mainly women, said they would vote for Phipps, and no one declared an enthusiasm for Labour. Crossness with the political class seems certain to depress the vote for both main parties.

We bumped into the Labour candidate. “Hello Donella,” Phipps said, but no further conversation was possible as she was on her mobile phone. She appeared to be on it alone. Several Tories reported that Labour has not been at all visible during this campaign.

We came to a modest house with a Mercedes parked outside. The owner, who turned out to be a member of the Conservative Party, said: “We’ve got to get rid of the woman because otherwise we’ll have no party left. I’m lost for words.”

He was not, however, lost for words, for he continued: “If she’d got any decency, any self-respect, she’d go.”

Quinn replied: “I’m so passionate for this area. I can’t change the national picture. Honestly, just think about it. It’s a local election.”

He was energetic and articulate in defence of his local record, and knows these streets like the back of his hand. He said he needed to come back and have a longer conversation with this particular voter.

Every fair-minded voter admitted it was unfair to blame Phipps for blunders made at national level. One voter did, however, point out that Phipps is a member of the Conservative Party, so cannot dissociate himself from what it does.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, came into view, moving at speed from house to house. He said: “Good local candidates do champion their way through against any national issues.”

That is doubtless true. But it is also true that national issues are making life far much more difficult for Conservatives fighting tomorrow’s local elections.

Dudley Council went Labour last September, when one Tory, and one Independent, changed sides. To win it back under present circumstances would be a heroic achievement.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

In Dudley, I watch local Tories trying to run on their record, not May’s

Is there any truth in the ancient claim that all politics is local? Councillor Simon Phipps, whose picture adorns this article, very much hopes so. Last night he led a crack team of over 20 Conservatives, drawn from all over the West Midlands, in a bid to hold his seat in Belle Vale, a marginal ward in the highly marginal Metropolitan Borough Council of Dudley.

His troops gathered at six yesterday evening in the car park at the Lutley Oak pub, on a grassy knoll overlooking the main road between Halesowen and Stourbridge. The weather was beautiful and morale among the troops was high, for how else can one fight an election?

Phipps, who is 23 and won the seat when he was 19, arrived in a small car which bore on its door, in white capitals on a blue background, the impeccably local message:

SIMON PHIPPS

WORKING HARD

FOR

BELLE VALE

But the national background is atrocious. The Conservative government has broken its promise to implement Brexit, and people in Dudley, a predominantly Leave-voting area, have noticed.

Preliminary research in Stourbridge, three miles down the road, indicated a sense of resigned disgust with politics, and an inclination to say “a plague on all your houses”. Mike Lloyd, 63, who runs the doughnut stall at the end of the High Street, said:

“We’re not going to bother to vote. My missus is that fed up with Brexit. We’ve always voted Conservative, ever since the Margaret Thatcher days, but Brexit is a nightmare, an absolute nightmare. We’d like to just leave on that Friday and tell them all to bugger off.”

Barry Taylor, a retired machine operator, agreed: “I’ve just lost interest now in politics altogether. When we had that vote two years ago, about coming out of Europe, I don’t know why they didn’t just come out there and then.”

A woman who runs a small shop regretted that the High Street has become “dilapidated”, but took a marginally more promising view: “I might still vote Conservative. If I don’t I shan’t vote at all. But a lot of people have had enough now, to the point it just goes over people’s heads and they shut their eyes and ears to it.”

Could Phipps open their eyes and ears? Soon he was running up a suburban street, lined with modest and by no means affluent houses, with a distant view of green and wooded hills, in the hope of persuading sceptical voters to think again.

He called only at houses which earlier canvassing had shown either to be Conservative, or at least to be open to persuasion. Rather ominously, shiny cars were parked outside some of these far from grand houses, but the doors did not open.

When the door did open a crack, one man said: “We’re just having our tea.” Another said, as if this ruled out all political conversation: “I’ve got my grandson with me.”

Some people, mainly women, said they would vote for Phipps, and no one declared an enthusiasm for Labour. Crossness with the political class seems certain to depress the vote for both main parties.

We bumped into the Labour candidate. “Hello Donella,” Phipps said, but no further conversation was possible as she was on her mobile phone. She appeared to be on it alone. Several Tories reported that Labour has not been at all visible during this campaign.

We came to a modest house with a Mercedes parked outside. The owner, who turned out to be a member of the Conservative Party, said: “We’ve got to get rid of the woman because otherwise we’ll have no party left. I’m lost for words.”

He was not, however, lost for words, for he continued: “If she’d got any decency, any self-respect, she’d go.”

Quinn replied: “I’m so passionate for this area. I can’t change the national picture. Honestly, just think about it. It’s a local election.”

He was energetic and articulate in defence of his local record, and knows these streets like the back of his hand. He said he needed to come back and have a longer conversation with this particular voter.

Every fair-minded voter admitted it was unfair to blame Phipps for blunders made at national level. One voter did, however, point out that Phipps is a member of the Conservative Party, so cannot dissociate himself from what it does.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, came into view, moving at speed from house to house. He said: “Good local candidates do champion their way through against any national issues.”

That is doubtless true. But it is also true that national issues are making life far much more difficult for Conservatives fighting tomorrow’s local elections.

Dudley Council went Labour last September, when one Tory, and one Independent, changed sides. To win it back under present circumstances would be a heroic achievement.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Local elections: The Conservative/Labour battlegrounds

On Thursday, local elections take place, amidst an exceptional level of antipathy towards the main political parties at Westminster. What makes it unprecedented is the degree of hostility to both Labour and the Conservatives.

One can only really make such comparisons for the period after the Second World War. Before that, local elections were much less party political. In London, the Conservatives used to call themselves the “Municipal Reform Party” when it came to local government. Elsewhere, it would be quite normal for no candidates to be standing under a party banner but as independents, or as “Ratepayers”.

Since 1945, it has often been the case that a Party in power nationally has been punished with a drubbing in town hall contests. The oddity we face at present is that the Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems have all contrived to be deeply unpopular at the same time.

No council elections are taking place in Scotland or Wales this year.

But in England 8,374 seats are up for election, and a further 460 in Northern Ireland.

There are no elections in London, Cornwall, Bristol, Wiltshire or Shropshire. But most of the rest of England has an election of some sort. 33 metropolitan boroughs, 168 districts, and 47 unitary authorities go to the polls. Some are “all out” elections; others have a third of seats being contested.

A quiet revolution is underway – with more unitary authorities rather than “two tier” arrangements. So in Dorset, there will be just two councils in future. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council will cover the east of the county; the new Dorset Council will cover the rest of the county.

Another innovation will be a new directly elected regional mayor, for the North of Tyne Authority.

Despite their difficulties, the Labour Party is expected to make significant gains from the Conservatives. This is partly because most of these seats were last contested in 2015, the same day as the Conservatives won the general election.

Therefore, the Conservatives have more territory to defend. Furthermore, we have a Conservative Government and voters tend to focus their blame on the Party in power if they are dissatisfied – whether over Brexit or other matters. As I noted last week even if the main parties were level in the opinion polls, that would imply Conservative losses of 500 seats. Most recent polls have had Labour several points ahead.

So which are the council results to look for in terms of Labour/Conservative battlegrounds?

Calderdale is one of the easiest Labour targets, even though only a third of the seats are being contested. That council already has a minority Labour administration. Victory would give Labour control of every metropolitan borough in Yorkshire.

Trafford is another council that is already Labour-run, but as a minority administration. Modest gains would give Labour full control in this authority which has long been a high profile bellwether of Party fortunes. The same applies in Dudley. Labour will be hoping to advance overall control from their current precarious status. Other councils with minority Labour administrations include Carlisle, Milton Keynes, Redcar and Cleveland, and North East Lincolnshire. All are obvious targets for them to gain overall control.

Brighton and Hove is less predictable. The whole council is up for election there. It has a minority Labour administration. But what will be the impact of Corbynista deselections? It is not a straightforward Labour/Conservative battle as there is a significant group of Green party councillors.

Labour has an overall majority of one on Cheshire West and Chester. But that is a council they gained unexpectedly last time, and so can not take it for granted.

Derby is another to look out for. It is run by a minority Conservative administration after Labour lost control last year. Will they get it back? Or make further losses? Stoke is also a bit tricky to call. All the seats are up for election. It is currently run by Conservatives and independents. Normally it would be solid Labour territory. But what will be the Brexit factor? York is run by a coalition of the Conservatives and Lib Dems. That will be another prominent Labour target.

Among the district councils, High Peak and Gravesham are both Conservative councils, with small majorities, where all the seats are being contested. Amber Valley and Basildon are also both narrowly Conservative controlled and in those only a third of the seats are being contested, making Labour’s challenge greater in mathematical terms.

Thurrock is a unitary authority with a minority Conservative administration and a third of seats being contested.

What if Labour do much better? It is possible they could be gifted some windfall gains due to Tory voters abstaining. Conservative councils where all the seats are up for election include Boston, Broxtowe, Dover, Medway and North Lincolnshire. If it is a bad night those are the sort of places that would fall.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Andy Street: Here in the West Midlands, we’re on the verge of reopening railways that have been closed since Beeching

Andy Street is Mayor of the West Midlands, and is a former Managing Director of John Lewis.

Next month, rail users in the West Midlands will see the introduction of a new timetable representing the most significant improvement in the region’s services since the turn of the millennium.

Passengers will benefit from changes introduced by West Midlands Railways, which took over the franchise in 2017. There will be new cross-Birmingham linkages providing improved connectivity to Birmingham Airport and on to London, extra evening services on most routes with more later trains running, as well as the introduction of new rolling stock and electric services in other areas.

At a time when services elsewhere in the UK are subject to criticism, growing passenger numbers and changing commuter habits in the West Midlands provide clear evidence that our approach to our railways is working. After decades of underinvestment, I’m proud that, with the support of a Conservative Government, the people of the West Midlands are seeing their rail network reshaped to provide the services they need.

Initially planned for last December, Chris Grayling rightly deferred the introduction of our timetable until May to ensure local rail users avoided the much-publicised problems experienced elsewhere in 2018. Now we are ready to roll out changes which will connect our residents with the opportunities being created by our economic growth.

But as ambitious as these timetable changes may seem, they are only the latest arrival in a West Midlands rail renaissance that is changing the mindset of commuters and reinvigorating the network that serves our seven constituent boroughs of Birmingham, Solihull, Wolverhampton, Coventry, Walsall, Sandwell, Dudley and beyond.

Arguably, the rebirth of New Street Station is the most emblematic change of that renaissance. Birmingham’s dingy old main station, for decades a symbol of a dated and tired transport network, was reimagined through a £550 million rebuild. Crowned by the impressive Grand Central shopping centre above its main concourse, it is now a fitting entry point for visitors to the nation’s resurgent Second City.

This was just the beginning of a huge investment programme in local stations that is still ongoing, supported by Government investment. In Wolverhampton, work is progressing at pace as the region’s best transport interchange is constructed. In Coventry, work has begun on a major revamp of the city’s main station, which will complement Coventry City Council’s transformation of the area that links the station with the city centre.

Both of these redevelopments are backed by cash from the West Midlands Combined Authority and represent our determination to see visible improvements across the region. They will drive investment in the heart of these cities, just as New Street did in Birmingham. We can expect the new HS2 station, being built in Curzon Street, to have the same effect on a different part of Birmingham.

However, this isn’t just about flagship builds in big cities – it is about reinvigorating the region’s rail network at all levels, to ensure it provides the services demanded by our economic success. Our growth, fuelled by Conservative policies, is revitalising communities where local railway stations were once deemed uneconomic. In the West Midlands, we are on the cusp of seeing Beeching cuts reversed.

In South Birmingham, plans to reopen three stations in the bustling communities of Moseley, Kings Heath and Hazelwell are well advanced, with design options and timetabling now being finalised. In Walsall, passenger stations in Willenhall and Darlaston are set to reopen on a line that has only carried freight since Dr Beeching swung his axe during the 1960s. I am ambitious to investigate the potential for more of these resurrected stations, with Aldridge in Walsall now under consideration and more in North Birmingham, Sutton Coldfield and Coventry being discussed. These re-openings are the result of in-depth research that sets out a genuine business case for passenger services.

National changes are likely to see Network Rail services devolved to a regional level, making the system more responsive to passenger needs. With the West Midlands Rail Executive (WMRE) driving local rail policy, and Transport for the West Midlands co-ordinating connectivity, we have built a strong structure to make the most of this latest devolution of influence.

By working alongside Government, train operators and rail regulators, the WMRE is providing local leadership to ensure the right decisions are made here in the West Midlands, not in Westminster.

I look forward to welcoming the Transport Secretary to the region this week, to show him some of the work being done here and maintaining the partnership that is driving our rail renaissance.

While the Government’s Williams Review, into the future of the national network, has expressed some concerns over the current franchising structure of the UK’s railways, here in the West Midlands we are seeing how a franchisee can revitalise a network by working with the Mayor’s office and other partners. A key factor in its success has been the close fit between the franchise area and the economic geography of the West Midlands.

In the 14 months since West Midlands Railway (WMR) took over the franchise, we have seen a number of milestones reached: a new quality regime, fleets of trains ordered, better compensation for late or cancelled services, more staffed gates, the abolition of lost property charges and constructive dialogue with unions on further potential changes. The sight of WMR livery and branding on stations and trains across the region has reinforced a sense of rebirth for services that so many of our residents rely on.

The pace of change has not slackened this year: WMR has a number of obligations to meet beyond targets on punctuality and reliability. These include new ticket machines, information screens and free wi-fi on all trains. As mayor, I will be monitoring WMR’s performance to ensure they deliver on these promises and more.

Investment lies behind this railway renaissance in the heart of England, but much remains to be done. As our economy grows, passenger numbers are well up. In Birmingham, rail has recently become the leading mode for commuting – overtaking the car. This makes Birmingham the only city outside London where this is true.

It is vital that, as opportunities are created for our residents, we provide them with the public transport means to reach them. All this means that we must ensure investment in our railway network keeps pace with the needs of society, and that operators, regulators and Government recognise that the passenger is always the most important factor in any transport system.

By adopting this mindset, we are building a West Midlands rail network fit for the future – and we have some big developments on the horizon that are helping to focus our efforts. With Coventry being UK City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham in 2022, we can expect an influx of visitors to put our transport ambitions to the test. The arrival of HS2 into the heart of Birmingham, before extending into the north, will connect our growing network to the rest of the UK in a new and dynamic way.

As we look down the track to these approaching challenges, I’m confident that the twenty-first century rail service we are creating will arrive on time.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com